Monday, August 6, 2018

Summer 2018 on Sandy Point

By Beth Sullivan
Some things never change: the beauty and lure of a pristine island, calm water, clean sand and nature all at our back door.
Sandy Point Island is one of two islands owned by Avalonia Land Conservancy. South Dumpling is much farther off shore, not easily accessed and very rocky. The inner portions are densely vegetated and full of poison ivy. For that reason wildlife has been less disturbed and less oversight has been needed.
For generations Sandy Point Island has been much loved by local families and visitors alike. It is easily accessed by any kind of boat and the sandy shores are inviting to all: people and wildlife. Over the years we have reported on the efforts to preserve the wildlife on Sandy Point while still allowing people to enjoy the unique opportunity for passive recreation and nature observation. You can read more here. For the last two years the USFWS has been responsible for management on the island and each year, we get updates and reports on the success of the project. Visitors have been introduced to and educated about the management plans for the island. For the most part, those who understand are engaged and eager to assist with our conservation efforts. We thank you.
When visiting Sandy Point, take some time to read about the island and our conservation efforts.

A family group of oystercatchers doesn't seem to be intimidates by the flocks of gulls. Photograph by Rick Newton.

Migrating shorebirds like this ruddy turnstone rely on horseshoe crab eggs for food.

Home to many species

This year, preliminary reports are very encouraging about the number of American oystercatchers on the island. Approximately 16 pairs successfully nested and fledged young. We do not know the finally tally yet. These birds are so entertaining to watch and listen too, as they raise their young and noisily call to one another. This colony is considered one of the largest of these birds whose existence is threatened. Endangered piping plovers also arrived, some attempted nests, but between predators, people and storms, success may have been limited to one hatchling and it is uncertain if it survived to full fledging.
One species we can always count on, is the horseshoe crab. A group of us have been studying, counting and tagging these crabs since 2009. We have witnessed the steep decline in their numbers in just this short time period. Less than 10 years ago we could count 1000 crabs in one night, now we may get to 100, or so. Sacred Heart University’s Project Limulus, was unable to provide the large number of tags as in previous years, but in two separate visits, we were able to tag over 100 crabs and document returnees by their tag numbers from previous years. They too favor these beaches for mating and nesting. We have noticed some changes though. In earlier years, the populations were greatest along the north, calmer water side of the island. There they came farther up on shore and nested in areas that would be dry sand during low tide. It was also the area that sees more human disturbance and is often impacted by large mats of algae covering the shoreline. In recent years we have noticed a shift, and now they seem to be arriving on the southern shore down on the eastern tip. The surf is decidedly rougher, water cooler and cleaner, and they seem to burrow into the sand in deeper water for nesting. We wonder whether the nests ever dry out, whether the eggs develop successfully under water, or maybe if they are more protected from people and predators. I am not sure we will ever know really. But on a new moon night at the end of June, several of us were able to enjoy a motor boat ride out to the island and with tags, calipers, and headlamps we walked the beach, waded in deeper than we planned, and enjoyed participating in yet another year celebrating the return of the horseshoe crabs to Sandy Point.
Grey pearl-like horseshoe crab eggs are laid in shallow sand. 

Often the crabs emerge from the water to nest on the high tide line, but then they are more vulnerable to predators. Photograph by Rick Newton.

Team work allowed us to tag 50 crabs that night, document previously captured crabs, and pick up litter. Photograph by Rick Newton.

The south eastern shore of the island has a rougher surf, but he horseshoe crabs seem to prefer nesting in the deeper waters found there. Photograph by Rick Newton.

Still time to enjoy Sandy Point

There is still a month of high summer, and almost two months until the autumn equinox. There is still time to enjoy Sandy Point. The shorebird migration has begun. If you are very, very observant, you may actually be able to find the larval, miniature horseshoe crab young on the mudflats in shallow water. They are a necessary food source for the birds.
Summer life on Sandy Point continues. Some things change, somethings never do. If you go out to the island, please respect the guidelines and make it your choice to help us protect the creatures that also need the island for their own R&R.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise indicated.

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